About Us

Directors

Director Lewis

Melissa Lewis, PhD

Bio

I received my doctorate in Health and Social Psychology from North Dakota State University in 2005. I also hold MS and BS degrees in Psychology from Montana State University – Billings. I completed a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism T32 postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Washington’s Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors in 2007. Prior to joining the UNTHSC School of Public Health in 2018, I was a member of the faculty in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington from 2007 to 2017. Throughout my career, I have focused on uncovering why adolescents and young adults engage in health-risk behavior and how we can, in turn, use that knowledge to identify protective and risk factors as well as prevent risk. My scholarly interests and pursuits focus on advancing the understanding of the dual processing nature of decisions to engage in health-risk behaviors and to inform theoretically sound and efficacious alcohol use and related risky sexual behavior interventions among adolescents and young adults. Alcohol use and concomitant risky sexual behavior are public health concerns (in terms of incidence and consequences) that often initiate during adolescence. Adolescents and young adults experience consequences associated with alcohol use and risky sexual behavior; thus, testing models with a focus on health-risk behaviors during adolescence and young adulthood is of critical importance. For many adolescents and young adults, when they begin drinking, they do so in an extreme fashion, with frequent heavy-episodic drinking episodes. Given the clear risks associated with heavy-episodic drinking (e.g., sexual assault, risky sexual behavior, injuries, death), why do so many adolescents and young adults begin or persist in known risky behaviors? What factors place some individuals at greater risk for negative consequences than others? How can we use our knowledge of risk and protective factors in interventions to reduce harm? These are precisely the type of questions my research seeks to answer. My research connects with my value to conduct research that has potential to make a significant impact to public health. I value research and policy that aims to expand prevention and intervention to adolescents and young adults. Our health services need to meet the needs of young adults and incorporate technology to bring preventative interventions to adolescents and young adults, with potential for significant impact on public health. My program of research has been funded by grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, and the Alcohol Beverage Medical Research Foundation.

Director Litt

Dana Litt, PhD

Bio

I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Systems in the School of Public Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. I received my doctorate in Applied Social Psychology from The George Washington University in 2010. And completed a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism T32 postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Washington’s Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors in 2012. Prior to joining the UNTHSC School of Public Health, I was a member of the faculty in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington from 2012 to 2017. The overarching goal of my work is to advance the field in understanding the social and environmental factors that influence health risk behavior decision-making in order to inform theoretically sound and efficacious substance use prevention efforts for adolescents and young adults. Consistent with my overarching interests in the influence of socially based variables on health risk behaviors, my current research aims to address questions related to the utility of including socially-based variables in prevention programming, particularly with respect to social images, social comparison, social norms (both for peers who abstain from alcohol and peers who use alcohol) and social networking sites. In my spare time I volunteer for a local dog rescue and enjoy exploring Fort Worth with my own rescue dog, Teddy.

 

Graduate Students

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Allison Cross

Bio

I am a current doctoral student in the School of Public Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center where I work in Dr. Dana Litt and Dr. Melissa Lewis’s Studying Alcohol and Related Risks (STARR) lab. I received an undergraduate and graduate degree from the University of Alabama with a B.S. in Addiction and Recovery and an M.S. in Human Development and Family Studies. My research interests include substance use prevention and intervention in the young adult population. More specifically, I am interested in understanding the environmental factors that influence risky behaviors, including substance use as well as the role of the stigmatization of substance use disorders and substance using perceived norms in the young adult population.

Graduate Student Seamster

Abby Seamster

Bio

I am a current medical student and DO/MPH candidate at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine-UNTHSC. I received my undergraduate degree from Trinity University with a B.S. in neuroscience and psychology. Prior to graduate school, I worked as a medical scribe in the emergency department and psychiatric in-patient settings. My research interests include substance use behavior intervention and prevention, health disparities and substance use, and community-based outreach. More specifically, I am interested in pursuing ways in which prevention and intervention strategies can be optimized to de-stigmatize substance use in the clinical setting to foster positive recovery and treatment experiences for patients.

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Jaylan Wright

 

Bio

I am a current Master of Public Health Leadership student working in Dr. Melissa Lewis and Dana Litt’s Studying Alcohol and Related Risks (STARR) Research Lab. I am passionate about connecting the dots of how human behavior and systemic factors influence health-related outcomes. I received my B.A. in Public Health with a minor in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Missouri-Columbia. During my undergraduate studies, I was a research assistant for the Missouri Orthopedic Institute in the Support Services department under the tutelage of Wes Sconce, MHA. There I facilitated employee engagement initiatives and increased patient accessibility and satisfaction within the hospital. After graduating from UNTHSC I plan to launch a career as a health educator in sexual education and continue my academic career to gain my Ph.D.

Folasade

Folasade Fashina

Bio

I am a current Master in Public Health student with a concentration in Public Health Leadership at the The University of North Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health. I received my undergraduate degree from Howard University, where I conferred a Bachelors of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Bioethics. Prior to working at the STARR lab, I was a Stephen Carter Ainsworth Health Policy fellow with the American Society of Clinical Pathology, a student researcher at NYU, a Student Federal Advocacy intern on behalf of Breakthrough Central Texas with the National College Attainment Network, and a Public Policy Intern with Ujima, Inc.: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community. My research interests include health policy, the political economy of health and social interventions, directly in relationship to health disparities faced by minoritized and exploited populations within and beyond the United States.

Staff

Kannard Headshot

Emma Kannard

Bio

I am a Research Assistant in Dr. Melissa Lewis’ and Dr. Dana Litt’s Studying Alcohol and Related Risks (STARR) Research Lab. I received my B.A. in Psychology with minors in Counseling and Spanish from the University of North Texas. During my undergraduate studies I was a research assistant and recruitment coordinator for the Teen Stress and Alcohol Research (St.A.R.) Laboratory directed by Dr. Heidemarie Blumenthal, working on research pertaining to adolescent anxiety and substance use. Post-graduation I worked as a full time project coordinator for the Mood and Psychopathology Laboratory under the mentorship of Dr. Camilo Ruggero where I oversaw a research grant pertaining to the HiTOP system